She’s certainly pretty. She’s sweet and extraordinarily calm. But how smart is Beverly?
In the course of raising the 11 dogs that Steve and I have lived with over the past 39 years, we’ve given a lot of thought to the question of canine intelligence. We’re aware that golden and labrador retrievers regularly rank high on lists (like this one) of the smartest breeds. But that’s only mildly satisfying. Among the many things we’ve learned from raising CCI puppies is how dramatically individual dogs bred systematically from just those two breeds vary in personality.
Then there’s the question of what qualifies as canine intelligence. Stanley Coren, author of The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions, distinguishes between adaptive, instinctive, and working intelligence. His “instinctive intelligence,” for example, refers to inherited traits such as the instinct to herd. By that standard, none of our dogs has been particularly bright; put each one in a field with a bunch of sheep and they’d all probably cause an ovine riot. A few were mad-keen ball-chasers, but none would have been able to track a criminal by scent. The puppy who seemed most mentally agile — inventive and relentlessly active — was Dionne. But she drove us to distraction with all the ways she thought of to get into trouble (and she ultimately was released from Advanced Training after her trainer judged her energy level and distractibility to be “high” and her learning rate to be only “moderate.”)
About Beverly, we’re withholding judgment. She does things that baffle me. She’ll whine around 6 a.m. — suggesting that she thinks it’s time to rise and shine. But when I stumble to her kennel and open the door, she most often will just sit inside it, rather than bounding out as most puppies would. I sit down next to it and wait. Sooner or later, she emerges.
Or she’ll come halfway down a flight of stairs (in response to a summons from one of us.) And then she’ll sit down on one of the treads. And sit. And sit — ignoring our pleas for her to descend all the way and come to us. What is she thinking? we wonder.
I recently read a post on the Rover.com blog, Daily Treat, that made me think of Beverly. Discussing the question, “Do you really want a smart dog?” the author commented that “dogs who are not engaged but lazy also can make great pets, as their motivation to do nothing appeals to many people. Low activity, low engagement equals not trainable, but easy to live with.”
I’m certainly not going to declare at this point that Beverly is not trainable. She’s performing respectably in puppy class. But she’s less active (lazier?) than any other puppy we’ve ever had.
That HAS made her seem easier to live with. I have mixed feelings about this. Smart is good, right? But easy to live with also feels pretty awesome.